As part of my series about the “5 Things, You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Radosh Butt.
Laura is the founder and president of LBR Insight, a full-service qualitative market research company that helps creative agencies and consumer and healthcare brands optimize their advertising strategies. A certified woman-owned business (WBENC), Laura formed LBR Insight after leading strategic planning at agencies such as Deutsch, McCann, and J. Walter Thompson. Her experience in both the consumer and healthcare sectors includes esteemed clients such as the U.S. Army, Ulta Beauty, Chick-fil-A, L’Oreal, GlaxoSmithKline, Sage Therapeutics, Allergan Pharmaceuticals, and Ironwood Pharmaceuticals. Laura was the recipient of the 2019 Researcher of the Year by Quirk’s Marketing Research and Insight Excellence Awards and, for the second year in a row, LBR Insight received a Bronze Stevie® Award for Women in Business — Most Innovative Company of the Year 2019. She is a RIVA trained moderator, a certified LEGO® Serious Play® facilitator, and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania.
Thank you so much for joining us Laura! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Of course! Like most, when I started the journey to my career, I never imagined I would be where I am today. I was actually a history major at the University of Pennsylvania and unsure of what I wanted to do.
I always found advertising intriguing but didn’t see how my interests could fit into that world. It wasn’t until I took Marketing 101 at Penn that I realized there was a strategy behind the ads I was seeing around me. It really made me want to dig into that strategy and psychology, to figure out why they are made the way they were.
After graduating I moved to San Francisco to pursue advertising. It was the late 90s, and San Francisco was where all the hot agencies were located. I was fortunate to get an entry position and work for the people behind the famous Apple 1984 campaign. It was there that I was first exposed to market research as a discipline, and even watch my first focus group. I then made my way to another advertising mecca, New York City, and worked as a strategist at Deutsch, McCann, and J. Walter Thompson. I had the most amazing mentors at these agencies who instilled in me the best practices I still value today.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
During my time in the agency world, I often worked on new business pitches which included market research to test the strategies and creativity we were presenting to our potential client to make sure our work always worked. As with most new business pitches, there is little-to-no budget available so being the strategic planner of the team, I was often the moderator for all of our research needs. I realized at that time I had this innate ability to really connect with those I was talking to and get deep into the conversation quickly to pull out those nuggets which informed and sparked strategy and creativity. That is where my passion for qualitative research grew. It didn’t hurt that the insights I found helped win great accounts, such as Zelnorm and Viagra for my agencies at the time.
I knew that in order to focus on market research I would need to go off on my own. It coincided with when I met my husband, who lived in my native Philadelphia, so I made the decision to leave the agency world behind and embark on my new path. All it took was two contacts from my agency days to hire me for projects for Beech-Nut baby food and Prince tennis racquets, and LBR Insight was up and running. Now, almost 14 years later, we are here thriving, working on new and different clients and brands, and creating our own innovative techniques that set us apart from our competitors.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Honestly, I don’t think I can consider any mistake “funny”, but they are all important, and I have learned and grown from each one.
One that stands out that I constantly retell to employees as a case of “what not to do” happened during creative testing for a brand new pharmaceutical client. There were quite a few team members on the brand I was working with, plus the agency, plus a few other people who were all attending research. Although I was the expert on research in the room, at that time I didn’t understand when to express an opinion, but then let it go if needed. I was pushing for a point of view and did not back down when I should have since it was fairly obvious my client was not on board. We were able to get through the research, and our report and findings were sound, but that is one of only a very few clients that have not brought us back on for another project. Luckily, I learned from that, and now have a much more grounded approach to inserting our expertise, but not at the expense of making clients uncomfortable.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven business” is more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My vision and purpose have always been to get human insights, truthful insights. I couldn’t stand seeing qualitative research done by cold, stiff people who asked questions like robots and showed little empathy for who they were speaking with. When we do our research, we have a very respectful, human way that we ask our questions and get our information. It is this ethos that carries through everything that we do at LBR Insight from how we treat each other, to how we treat our clients.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
BE IT, Don’t Say it. This is a rule we live by. We all know in marketing we can always make ourselves sound good, but you need to back it up. We are confident our work can stand for itself. It is the care, attention to detail, personal relationships, and our drive to continually grow in our expertise, that sets us apart from others. Our clients don’t just come to us for our insights, they come to us for our valued opinions on their brands and campaigns because we have passion for our work, dedication to their strategies, and carry ourselves with integrity. We have proven time and again to our clients that we know them, we have their best interests in mind, we stay in contact with them when projects aren’t active, and we are on top of what is going on in their industry and business. That connection, plus valid work and strong ethics, are hard to find in a “vendor” but appreciated beyond measure.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Integrity. You have to do your business with integrity. If you make a mistake, own it. If you can save your client money, do it. If your employee has a problem, help them. And above all, be honest. Always.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I am proud to say LBR Insight has always enjoyed a forward momentum. If I look at our client and project lists, we have consistently grown year after year. I think for the first couple of years, I didn’t aim too high, my goal was to just keep getting business and servicing clients. That helped me stay focused on delivering good results and establishing a solid reputation in the industry and among my network. I wasn’t motivated by growth, but rather by relationship building and honing my skills. Then one day I woke up and I realized I had more business then I could handle. I physically couldn’t be in two, three places at once to do the research and deliver the reports. That’s when it was time to start adding members to my team and grow. Our growth was always born out of the need to deliver good results to clients, and allow each client to get our full attention.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Things are great! Last year was our biggest year yet, we added a ton of new clients, and were able to solidify ourselves as strategic partners for our older ones. I have built a team I can put my full trust in, not only to get the job done, but get the job done well, on time, and probably add a few new projects onto the schedule in the process. Our team has taken on new challenges that we never thought were possible, and we added new services focused on different audiences. We were named one of the Most Innovative Companies by the Stevie Awards for Women in Business for the second year in a row, which is so gratifying as we put so much time and effort into creating innovative techniques for our research, which is not an easy task.
Our year ended on one of the highest notes in my career. I was named the 2019 Researcher of the Year by the Quirks Marketing Research and Insight Excellence Awards. Even though I got the award, it was 100% a team effort that got me there.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service-based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
First and foremost, per above, run your business with integrity. Give your clients the attention they deserve. Pay attention to their business even when you aren’t working on it. Send clients interesting and relevant stories or thoughts. Learn about them personally and remember who they are outside of their work role and connect with them on things that really matter to them.
Second: figure out who you are, and who you are not, and stay true to that. I strongly believe that just like a brand, a business cannot be all things to all people. Learn and grow your strengths and proudly tell your clients what you are great at, and also what they should choose another partner for.
Third, be consistent. If you get a new client and put your all into that first project to impress them, don’t slack on the second or third one. It will show every time. Approach each project as if it is yours to lose, don’t take any project or interaction for granted.
Fourth, build a team you can trust and train them not just how to do the job, but how to embrace your values; don’t just train people on how to do, train them on how to be.
And finally, don’t grow for growth’s sake. Use consultants for the busy times until you can justify and warrant the cost of a new team member. Rushing to add to your team will only lead to frustration and a lack of passion. In service-based businesses, you are only as good as your last project or interaction, so you have to pick your people very carefully, and train them very well before you let them interact with clients one to one.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am grateful to so many people including mentors from my ad agency days, my employees, my clients, and of course my supportive husband. Sometimes those biggest boosts in business come from the smallest places. One of my first bosses started working at a new agency and brought me in for a small pitch project for a major piece of business. They won the pitch, he credited my research insights for helping them to solidify their strategy. That little project sprouted so many branches within that agency for both internal projects and exciting research studies for a large list of their impressive clients. It’s a reminder that when building your business, don’t turn down those small projects because they could lead to big things.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Our team is diverse, and we all come from different places. A passion for our entire team is breaking down racial stereotypes. We have worked on various client-focused studies understanding different subconscious biases against others and have done our own research to try to get to the underlying cause or issue in our own city. As strategic researchers, we know that education is what creates change in the world, so that is our goal: to decrease racial tensions through illumination.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We are on LBR Insight on Facebook and are always looking to add to our growing panel of respondents that we reach out to for future research projects. We use our LinkedIn page for business purposes. You can always catch up with us or learn more about us at www.lbrinsight.com